How to set up a nest box in your garden

There is nothing like the sight of busy birds fluttering back and forth to your garden nest box as they feed their young. After two years of waiting and hoping, we finally had coal tits nesting in our nest box this year and we loved watching them. If you would like to invite the birds to nest in your garden, now is a great time to get your nest box established so they have found and learned to trust the new home. Nest boxes are a great way to make up for the habitat loss our garden birds face in the wild. As our towns and cities have expanded and farmers have faced increased pressure to get value from every metre of their land, the natural hedgerows and trees once enjoyed by
the birds have become few and far between. At the same time, building reg- ulations have reduced nesting opportunities for birds that would usually make their homes in wooden soffiting and between broken roof tiles. When we add a nest box, we give the birds an opportunity to find shelter and breed, and we also get the chance to watch our garden visitors up close.

Make sure your nest box is constructed using a sturdy, waterproof and naturally insulating material and that it is treated to ensure it can withstand the elements. Wood is a great option, as are manmade choices like woodcrete.

The box should blend into the natural environment and the roof should be sloped to direct the rain away. It is important that the entrance hole is at least 12cm above the base of the nest box to keep the nestlings safe from preda- tors, and there should be a metal plate around the hole to prevent bigger birds, cats, squirrels or rats from gnawing or scratching the hole to gain access. You do not need a perch below the entrance to your nest box - birds don’t need them and they make it easier for predators to comfortably access the entrance.

Blue tits use a nest box with an entrance measuring 25mm across and need a clear sight line from the entrance. Position the box in the open rather than under cover of shrubs. Our New England Nest Box (pictured above) is ideal for blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits. House sparrows prefer to nest in colonies, so will enjoy using a terraced nest box with multiple separate spaces. Sparrows prefer a larger entrance of around 32mm and also like their nest box to be in an open space rather than under cover. If you want to bring robins into your garden, you need an open fronted box placed in ivy, shrubs and vegetation. Robins are nervous but opportunistic nesters and use the same nest box several years in a row. Swallows will use an open, half bowl shaped nest mounted high up in an outbuilding and woodpeckers require a very deep box positioned high up on a tree. Many birds benefit from a roosting space (like our Anita Artisan Nester) to help them endure the winter weather. Flocks of birds will hunker down together overnight to survive the cold.

A nest box should be hung facing away from prevailing wind and rain and out of direct sunlight. Never hang a nest box facing South - you’re aiming for Northeast if possible. Nest boxes for tits and sparrows should be positioned 1.5-3 metres above the ground, out of the reach of predators. Open nest boxes for robins should be hung closer to ground level. If possible, angle the box pointing slightly downwards to keep the wind and rain out. Position your nest box away from your feeding stations and if you add more than one nest box you will need to space them well throughout the garden to avoid territorial behaviour. You can offer birds short pieces of wool, straw and pet hair during nesting season to get them started. Each year you can take the nest box down between September 1st and January 31st. Take out any old nests and brush out the box before treating the outside with a fresh coat of paint or water based preservative if needed. Careful monitoring of the nest box dur- ing breeding season will not affect the success of the breeding birds. Ideally monitor the nest box daily with binoculars from February onwards and perform checks every 4-5 days. Go quietly to the nest when you know the adults have flown off in search of food and tap very gently on the side to alert any remaining birds to your presence before carefully lifting the lid or side of the box. Check the stage of nest building, or the num- ber of nestlings and their progress. Don’t stay at the nest for longer than neces- sary and never startle a female who is sitting on the nest. Use a different route to and from the nest box on each visit to avoid leaving a trail for predators and replace any vegetation you have moved to access the nest. It is illegal to clean out or move nests or eggs between Feb- ruary 1st and August 31st, even if you find abandoned chicks or eggs. The Brit- ish Trust for Ornithology will value your data - report your findings to the BTO’s Nesting Neighbours scheme at